Falcon I launches, fails to reach orbit – but SpaceX claim success

by Chris Bergin

SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) have launched their Falcon I. However, the second stage shut down early due to a roll issue during the second stage flight. Regardless, CEO Elon Musk is claiming success with the launch of the vehicle.

The vehicle – which was attempting to lift off from Omelek Island, Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean – is ‘version two’ of the Falcon I is a refined version of the vehicle that failed shortly after launch in March, 2006.

Monday’s launch attempt at 11:45pm GMT suffered a range source telemetry and land line issue at T-1m 34 seconds. An assessment failed to correct the problem, leading to the scrub for the day.

‘The abort that occurred a few minutes before T-0 was triggered by our ground control software,’ noted SpaceX on Tuesday. ‘It commanded a switchover of range telemetry from landline to radio, which took place correctly, however, because of the hardware involved, this transition takes a few hundred milliseconds.

‘Before it had time to complete, our system verification software examined state and aborted.

‘Our simulations done beforehand all passed, because the simulator did not account for a hardware driven delay in the transition. We considered putting the vehicle into a safe state yesterday and updating the ground control software to make the very minor fix needed, but the safer course of action was to stand down.

‘Yesterday afternoon and evening (Kwaj time), our launch team updated the software to address the timing issue and verified that there were no similar problems elsewhere. We ran the software through several simulated countdowns and then once again with the rocket and range in the loop.

‘All systems are now go for launch with T-0 at 4pm California time today (Tues).’


The Falcon I will be carrying Demosat (LCT2 / AFSS), which is a demonstration for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), along with two small experiments for NASA.

‘The primary DARPA objective for this mission is to gather flight data on the Falcon 1 launch vehicle and supporting systems.

‘A secondary objective is to separate a payload into LEO, to place the second stage into the planned final orbit, and demonstrating AFSS using the LCT2 for telemetering data back to Kwajalein and to Wallops Flight Facility.

‘The AFSS and LCT2 represent early steps in providing low-cost space-based range services for communications, tracking, and on-board autonomous flight termination. The AFSS is operating in a shadow mode for this mission.’

LCT2 (Low Cost TDRSS Transceiver) is a low-cost transceiver for launch vehicles that would allow them to relay telemetry to the ground through NASA’s TDRS satellites. AFSS (Autonomous Flight Safety System) will provide small expendable vehicles launching from at remote launch sites with additional ground-based range safety infrastructure.

‘On this mission, dubbed the Demo-2 mission, the vehicle will carry ~50 kg of experiments and associated hardware from the launch site at Omelek into a 685 km circular orbit with 9 degree inclination,’ noted SpaceX’s media preview, sent on Monday.

‘The payload consists of the Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS) and the Low Cost Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) Transmitter (LCT2), developed by NASA and the mechanical adapter hardware required to interface the payload with the launch vehicle.

‘The AFSS and LCT2 payloads are not deployed, but there will be a separation demonstration of an inert payload immediately after second stage 1st burn main engine shutdown.’

This second attempt comes after a one year stand-down, following the failure of Falcon I’s debut flight.

The newly beefed up vehicle passed an important milestone last week, with the successful static fire test of four seconds, testing the Merlin main engine, which suffered from a corroded aluminum nut, ultimately causing last year’s failure.

‘I know it has been a year since our last launch and some people are wondering if launch 3 will also be a year away if something goes wrong this time. The answer is definitely no,’ said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

‘The reason it took us a year is that the vehicle on the pad and the ground support equipment have hundreds of robustness upgrades – this is really Falcon 1 version 2.

‘There is nothing significant that we can think of to improve the vehicles under construction for the Dept of Defense and Malaysian satellite launches later this year. Therefore, no matter what happens,

‘I do not expect there to be a significant delay in their approximate end of summer and mid fall launch dates.’

In announcing the launch attempt at the opening of the four day window, SpaceX merely published on their official site that, ‘the flight readiness review conducted tonight shows all systems are go for a launch attempt at 4pm California time (11pm GMT).


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